Finished Season 3 the other night, and I have to say, this
is more like what I was expecting when I hear people sing the praises of this series, tightly-plotted and emotionally affecting. From the get-go, they get rid of the irritating soap opera with D'Argo and Chiana and gave Zhaan a touching send-off (I know the actress couldn't play the role anymore). I like that they expanded the cast (I'm a sucker for large casts) not only to replace Zhaan but reconnect with Crais and Talyn and have them share center stage with the rest of the crew. I loved the whole split-crew thing, the clever use of the duplicate to keep the protagonist anchored in both, and how it created new character dynamics--particularly on Talyn. In fact, I'd say the Talyn episodes and the final arc are the highlight of the season; by contrast, the episodes aboard Moya seemed to be spinning their wheels somewhat, waiting for the real story to get back to them. Meanwhile, we get more of those episodes that seem like they were written--and now filmed!--with everybody on crack. One show in particular, the extended Looney Tunes parody, was a real test of willpower not to press the fastforward button or pop the DVD out altogether. (Other points of irritation would include Stark suddenly vanishing again off-camera and that old, three-eyed alien showing up out of nowhere in the finale.) Plot-wise, I love that they're really getting stuck-in with the overall astropolitical landscape of the setting, expanding on the Scarrans and the looming conflict with the Peacekeepers. It generates great ambiguity in terms of what the heroes should be doing, well-demonstated in the final arc, and the tension between preventing Scorpius from acquiring wormhole technology on the one hand and the awareness of the threat the Scarrans represent on the other. On that note, I liked that the destruction of the command carrier played up the panic and tragedy, rather than making it seem like a victory.
It was strong, too, character-wise. The obvious thing is Aeryn and Crichton--after two seasons of dancing around the obvious, the relationship is finally consummated, only for the whole thing to go to hell when that Crichton dies. I find irritation the tendecy a lot of series have to infinitely defer fulfilling sexual tensions, particularly when the devices used are so patently artificial (and I include this show's first two seasons in there), but this is just the kind of fucked-up situation that makes the block perfectly understandable, that lets you feel the characters' pain and longing. After two seasons of being an afterthought, Rygel finally acquires some depth of character and usefulness to the plot, able to parlay his duplicity and officiousness into advantages, and not being such an asshole 24/7; he has good scenes with Aeryn, when he encounters the female of his species, and just last night I quite liked his final tribute to Talyn. I finally stopping thinking of him as 'the fucking puppet'. Wasn't quite sure about Jewel at first--perhaps not the best idea to introduce a character as useless and abrasive--but she grew on me as the season went on: when done right, she replaced Crichton's early role as the fish-out-of-water, showcasing the pain and fear of isolation on an alien ship full of strangers. The sisterly bond she develops with Chiana (alternatively at each others' throats or supporting each other in difficulty) was a good development. Stark, well... I don't think he's much of character, despite attempts to flesh him out with romantic interests--mostly, he just behaves to varying degrees of crazy. I think I preferred him in the final arc of Season 2, resentful and not entirely trustworthy. On that note, I think that they recovered well from Crais' not particularly well developed change of heart in the first season, balancing his usefulness, longings and regrets on one hand, and the feeling that you're never quite sure whose side he's on until the end on the other.
This show has finally gone from something I was watching mostly out of curiosity and because there's precious little else on, to something I'm looking forward to seeing. I'll rent Season 4 soon--if only to resolve the cliffhanger (whatever else I might say about this show, it always knows how to end its seasons on high notes). I'm glad the next instalment is just a video store away--must have been torturous waiting months to see what happens next in the first-run.
Fictitiously yours, Trent Roman